BOWLING GREEN—A small group of local veterans are looking to help other veterans who might need to talk about their military experiences with those who have faced the same situations.
Three Vietnam veterans came to the Bowling Green Times office Wednesday to talk about their group, Veterans Speaking to Veterans. They meet four times a month—twice in Louisiana at the Twin Pike Family YMCA and twice in Bowling Green at the Pike County Health Department Home Health and Hospice conference room. Always on a Wednesday and always at 10 a.m.
Even though the three men are veterans of the Vietnam War, they said the group is for all veterans, men and women, who have served their country.
Junior Hubert, Ron “Butch” Comer, and Tom “Grandpa” Smith
Smith said Butch inspired the other in the group to start the program so that they would have a place for their get-togethers.
They wanted to make it clear that they are only a non-government group that meets to give veterans an outlet to speak their mind.
“Whatever is said in these meetings, stays in these meetings,” Tom said. They don’t even allow spouses to attend, unless that person is also a veteran.
They also added that they cannot really help veterans who are having difficulty dealing with the Veterans Administration, although they do have phone numbers and contact names to direct veterans to the help they need.
“I can’t fill out applications for them or anything like that,” Tom added.
He noted that John Simpson, the reserve veterans commission service officer, who is based in Hannibal, is certified to help veterans who need help with the Veterans Administration.
“This is where veterans who are trying to find out something that they can’t get an answer to, can go,” Tom added.
Junior noted that Simpson told the group he would try to make at least one of their meetings a month, so that he could answer questions in person for the veterans who need it.
“A lot of veterans are coming up to us to ask questions about the VA,” Butch said. “We’re not there to answer questions about the VA. Because we don’t know. We’ll refer them to John Simpson.
“We are there for the camaraderie,” he said. “There’s a lot of veterans in the area probably carrying things around that they need to talk about, but there’s nobody to talk to. So, we formed this group to give these people a way—in or out—to give them someone to talk to instead of putting a gun to their head.”
The three men would not talk about their experiences in Vietnam during the interview. That they do with other veterans in their meetings, because it is those men and women who understand what they went through while defending their country and each other.
You can see it in their eyes—the pain of what they experienced and then had to carry with them buried deep inside.
At last estimate by the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study showed at least 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. Anywhere from 11 percent to 20 percent of the veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have experienced PTSD. And from the Gulf War, about 12 percent have experienced PTSD.
“This has nothing to do with the VFW or the American Legion,” Junior said.
“You don’t even have to be a member of any organization,” Tom said. “Just be a veteran.”
Butch said meetings are more like get-togethers, as he likes to refer to them.
“There’s no minutes, there’s no president or secretary,” he added. “You can come late, you can leave early. You can do whatever you want. Our purposes is to keep veterans from killing themselves.”
A similar group started in Troy, Mo., not too long ago, Butch noted. He said they started out with about three guys meeting in a local McDonalds. And now it has grown to about 300 veteran members from all over the area.
“It’s called Coffee Talk,” he said. “They meet on Thursdays. And they get free donuts and coffee.” He added that he believes some veterans in Silex are trying to start a group, as well.
Junior said once a veteran sits down with another veteran, even if they are strangers, they will start to talk. It may be just small talk about where they’re from and where they’ve been, but eventually it would lead to more, deeper conversations.
“That just how a veteran operates,” he added.
And a veteran doesn’t even have to talk at the meetings if he or she doesn’t want to.
“It may take three or four times before a veterans opens up and says something,” Junior said.
“There are so many veterans that have different situations,” added Tom, “and they don’t want to talk about it.”
He admits that he’s the type of veteran that doesn’t like to talk about his experiences in combat with non-veterans. But in this group he can open up with those who have faced the same things he has.
There are about 15 veterans in the group so far, and only one is a woman. They know women face PTSD just like men, and they want them to know that this group is open to them to come and talk, if they want.
And even if a veteran has not faced a combat situation, he or she is still welcome in the group. The military can put certain stresses on those who serve.
Tom said this group is a stress reliever for those who attend.
If the group gets large enough, they said they could add some evening meetings, too. They know younger veterans probably have jobs and can’t make the daytime meetings.
For more information on the meetings at the YMCA, contact Kama Gaw at 573-470-0328. For more information on the meetings at the PCHD, contact Cori Sheppard at 573-324-2111, ext. 130.